Saturday, June 29, 2013

Week Two of Summer Camp is Done

The week started with clouds and drizzle, but ended with uncomfortable heat. I had another group of kids in the same age range as last week (10 to 12 years old), and did most of the same things, although I was on the non-overnight schedule, which meant I didn't lead a night hike or sleep overnight on the field.

Speaking of the field, it looks like Rattlesnakes have decided the drainage grate at the edge of the field (around 30 feet away from where the kids sleep)is a good place to den. A counselor in one of the other groups said that one had been spotted, and when I went down to look, I found two. I managed to catch one - it was around 3 feet long and a dull gray/black color, had milky eyes signifying that it was getting ready to shed, and sported a rattle that had been partially broken off at some point. I ended up moving it down into the adjacent meadow, at the extreme far end under a big Live Oak tree, not really too far from where I caught it. In a way, this was an experiment to see if it would find its way back to where I had initially caught it. I figured such a distinctive looking individual would be easy to I.D. the second time it appeared. Sure enough, a couple of days later there was a Rattlesnake in the same spot, and after a bigger struggle than usual (the snake kept ducking into the Coyote Brush), I managed to catch it. It had the same broken rattle, but had managed to shed its skin during the intervening couple of days. This time, I released it much farther away from camp. I plan on checking that area every day, since there's still the other snake that I didn't catch.

On the night hike, one of the other leaders says that he stepped on a snake, very possibly a Rattlesnake, at the other end of the field. Fortunately, it didn't strike and nobody was harmed. That said, despite these instances, we've been seeing fewer Rattlesnakes than usual. Not as many Yellowjackets yet either.

My favorite critter-related moment of the week was when I took some kids out on a short hike and we caught a couple of cicadas. The first one was caught by me, and the second one was found and caught by one of the kids. Both continued to sing their little cicada songs while being handled and passed from hand to hand.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Week One: Done

Week One of summer camp has receded into memory, although with the help of photos and this blog, I'll remember it a little more accurately than if my brain was left to its own devices.

Nothing surpassed the highlight of Monday's Bobcat sighting, but the week went as planned. One of my counselors was my old neighbor (she moved before I did, but in a strange coincidence, Willow's mom and family moved this week, and they now live around a block away from her). She did a fine job as a counselor. It's great watching kids grow up and take on new challenges.

As I like to do, I took my group up to Lake Ranch Reservoir in the middle of the week. The water level is actually a bit higher than I remember it being this time last year. We found a couple of garter snakes and the usual assortment of coots and ducks. Oh, and some tiny toads. And a skink.

It has been another unusually dry year, and I suppose it's only a matter of time before we stop prefacing the word "dry" with the word "unusual". There was some worry that the dry conditions would increase yellowjacket and rattlesnake encounters, but other than yellowjackets trying to reestablish a nest in the amphitheater area, it was a pretty quiet week on those fronts. I only found two rattlesnakes, which compared to some weeks, hardly registers on my snake radar.

Today, I'm doing a reptile party in Los Altos and Jeanine is making balloon creatures in front of a movie theater (for the opening of Monsters University). We have such hard jobs.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Summer Begins (In Spirit, If Not Quite In Reality)

We spent the weekend before summer camp being busy with fun stuff, going to Monterey on Friday and up to Vallejo for the Pirate Festival on Sunday. On Saturday, while Jeanine worked, I relaxed with music and the printed word. After the Pirate Festival (which featured a ship to shore battle between an authentic looking pirate ship & crew and a bunch of people dressed in period costumes firing blanks from various cannons, not to mention the usual ren-faire costume nerd crowd and more vendors than you could shake a wallet at), we did a bit of letterboxing nearby, including out on Mare Island, where we wandered up the hill while watching a distant fire get doused by airplanes dumping that reddish-orange flame retardant stuff on it.

Two days into working summer camp, and I already feel like outdoor school is a hazy memory. We've all slipped back into our time-worn grooves, doing what we do best. In my case, that means leading critter hunts during the afternoons. Surprisingly, we've only seen one Rattlesnake this week, hiding under an old cement block in the area we call the chaparral (actually, not really true chaparral, but there's a lot of dry, nutrient-poor dirt and Coyote Brush, so we use it to teach the concept of chaparral during the school year). The park rangers have been having bulldozer practice up there lately, so one Rattlesnake den has been obliterated, with all of the rocks that once sheltered snakes now pushed into an ugly heap. I'm not sure what the reasoning behind this was. The next time I see one of the rangers, I'll ask.

I did find a Mountain Kingsnake and a large Gopher snake, literally feet from each other under different slabs of concrete near the garden. There's usually Rattlesnakes under there, so it was a pleasant surprise to find something I could pick up with my hands.

The best moment of the first day of camp though happened after we'd found all of the snakes. We were following the trail through the chaparral when a small rabbit burst from the Coyote Brush to the right of the trail. Nearly on top of it was a Bobcat, trying to have himself a rabbit dinner. It was one of those "blink and you miss it" moments. Only two of the 12 kids blinked. Everybody else was throwing high-fives around with abandon. It's very unusual for us to see something like that, especially during a warm afternoon. It's the first time I've seen anything like it, at least. I wonder if our critter searching activities inadvertently spooked the rabbit, sending it too close to a drowsing bobcat. Either way, it was a treat to see. Like most things in life, we were left without knowing the beginning or the ending of this particular little drama, but that's okay. Seeing it for a moment was all we needed.

Thursday, June 13, 2013


At work, the transition from our outdoor school/science camp program to our summer camp programs is more or less complete. Today, we had around 40 counselor volunteers helping put the finishing touches on things, including painting the archery targets with cartoon images for kids to shoot at.

Before we went home today, some of us played on the ropes course elements, including Alex, who went up the Perch blindfolded. Nathan was supposed to be there today as well, but he wasn't at home when I dropped off Willow and picked up Alex, so I'm not sure what he ended up doing today.

Damn, the kids are getting big. At home, so are the chickens.

Sunday, June 09, 2013


Yesterday was unpleasantly warm, but today there is a nice, cooling breeze. Willow and I went to a park earlier. It's nice that she still occasionally enjoys being a little kid, playing on swings and slides and such. The park even had a merry-go-round, a device that is sometimes hard to find in the safety-conscious social climate of the 21st century. No kids died while we were at the park though. Imagine that. While we were there, two small kids were repeatedly climbing, monkey-like, up the metal poles supporting the swings, so it's not like kids weren't trying to kill themselves. What would the safety cops have thought?

The chickens have been out their coop during the day and inside at night. They're getting bigger.

Earlier this season, we bought a couple of Praying Mantis egg cases. They hatched a while back, and the backyard is crawling with the little fellows now.

Currently listening to: Mariee Sioux "Pray Me A Shadow"

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Last Night Of Science Camp For The Current School Year

I'm in the middle of my last night as night supervisor at science camp until the 2013/2014 school starts. The kids this week have been kind of a handful, actually. They seem much younger and less mature than they could be. There have been Yellowjacket attacks, a concussion, illness, a large rattlesnake in camp (which apparently resisted being moved and was last reported to be under the stairs leading to our lower field), lots of kids sent home for repeatedly breaking rules, and a mess in the boy's bathroom of such epic proportions that every subsequent mess will be compared to it. Working nights, I missed out on most of the fun, although tonight lots of kids are having a hard time going to sleep.

Here's a picture of the Black Widow that lives about 15 feet from where I'm typing this:

It's A Long Way To Mordor...

I might have mentioned a while back that I started a "Walk To Mordor" challenge, which simply means that I log the miles I walk until they add up to the distance Frodo and Sam covered on their way to Morder. That's 1779 miles, which is a long way for shrimps with fur on their feet to walk. After the two mile walk around camp I just completed, I now have only 1250 more miles to go. No fur on my feet either.

Tonight as I walked, the fog briefly rolled in before deciding to keep rolling. While the fog was at its thickest, I startled a coyote out by the dumpsters. Perhaps it was planning some sort of trick with the trash. It quickly scampered towards the forest when it saw me, pausing on the edge of the asphalt where the trail that leads down to our ropes course begins. At this point, I made my wounded squirrel noise to see how it would respond. It must not have been impressed, because in a blink I was staring at empty asphalt.

Better than running into a Balrog, I guess.

At the end of my walk, right outside the camp office, I noticed that a Black Widow was hanging out by the door. That's less unexpected than the coyote was. Black Widows own the place when the people are asleep. Coyotes just visit now and then, usually while nobody is looking.

Currently listening to: Savina Yannatou & Primavera en Salonico "Sumiglia"

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

A Decade Ago...

One of the reasons I have this blog is because so that I can browse through earlier posts when I want to be reminded of the little things that would otherwise be washed away by the tides of time. It's amazing how many seemingly significant things escape my memory completely. Sometimes I like to see what I wrote about on this date in previous years (I actually got one of those line-a-day journals as a gift around a year and a half ago, so there's actually some redundancy. Plus, I actually write in that one every day).

As for what I was writing about on this date a decade ago, I was worrying about working too much and having to split my sleep schedule, and laughing about ducks. Today, I'm lying in bed and listening to music after sleeping all of the morning and a bit of the afternoon. Later, I'll go get Willow and we'll have some dinner together. She has only a couple of more school days left before she officially becomes a fifth grader. Jeanine is uncharacteristically working on a weekday today.

I have two more nights of work at camp before the school year officially ends for me. Then, summer camp set-up week begins and we're up and running with summer madness.

Currently listening to: In Gowan Ring - disc 3 of the new reissue of "The Glinting Spade"

International Space Station, Plus Various Birds

One of my coworkers alerted me to the fact that the International Space Station would be visible this evening, right around the time the kids at camp would be getting into bed, so I juggled things and went down to the lower field in between ringing the warning bell and the final bedtime bell. My coworkers, those who hadn't already gone home already at least, were already down there watching, and the space station was just appearing above the hills to the Southwest. It was a bright point of light moving towards the Northeast. The thing that made it interesting was knowing what it was, so this little story is as good an illustration of the value of science as anything. Basic knowledge makes observation more interesting. I might bring this up while teaching a field class someday, and relate it to knowing about a certain type of plant or insect. A plant is just a plant and an insect is just an insect until more specific knowledge about its adaptations or usefulness is accessed. A light in the sky is just a light in the sky until it is revealed to be the International Space Station.

I saw a big bird being followed by a bunch of little birds this morning. They were all hanging out in the fog by the fence around the pool. It might be more interesting if I told you it was a mother turkey and her chicks. Further interest might be added if I related it to an earlier post where I mentioned seeing turkey courtship.

Later the same morning, I saw a small bird screaming at a large bird. Taxonomists place the two birds in the same family; Corvidae. The birds in question were a Stellar's Jay and a Common Raven. The Raven looked like it might have an injured wing, and the Jay looked like it might be about to have a little birdy heart attack. Eventually, both birds moved on, and I went home to sleep.

Our small birds are becoming slightly larger birds:

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Temporal Acceleration

It's true what they say. "They" being people older than me. Each succeeding year seems to vanish more quickly than the previous one did. It has gotten so bad that I have to stop myself from saying things like, "I can't believe the school year is almost over!". I don't want to become one of those walking cliches like so many other people seem to have become these days. However I might choose or not choose to remark upon it, Summer looms ahead as Spring prepares to slip into our rear-view mirrors.

As a result of a co-worker with a sore back, I spent the last week working days at our site in the Cupertino hills. The kids were from East San Jose, and for the most part, were excited to be surrounded by trees and hills instead of concrete and glass, doing things many of them had never gotten a chance to do before. Our main site was host to kids from a similar socioeconomic demographic. One kid at the main site apparently pooped his pants and tried to blame it on somebody else. Now, that takes some creative thinking! Some things you've just got to own up to though. Personal accountability seems all too rare these days. It's a concept I always stress when working with kids. I'd hate for them to turn out like most of their parents have.

The week before that I was on vacation. I had intended to only take half the week off so I could go to Baltimore for a four day metal/hardcore festival called Maryland Deathfest, but we're encouraged to actually use our vacation time before the end of the school year, so I just took the whole week off. Baltimore was fun, and I'll write about it on my music blog when I feel like it. In the meantime, here's me having a book-geek moment at Edgar Allan Poe's original gravesite:

At home, the chicks are growing quickly, and it's kind of nice to hear them constantly peeping in the other room. Outside, the squirrels have figured out how to get into the bird feeder, and the snails are no doubt plotting an overthrow of the garden beds. We've got copper tape (aka snail kryptonite) around the beds, which so far seems to be keeping the plants safe. The same can't be said for the plants that have the misfortune to be outside the beds. Willow's beans were stripped to the ground in no time, as was the Yerba Buena plant I planted.

This Friday, I got a chance to sit on the other side of the dreaded "job interview table" because I was part of a three person panel charged with screening out/whittling down the number of job applicants for one of the new permanent positions at my job. Half of the applicants for the position already work with the three of us, so it was interesting having to interview my own co-workers. It was all very scripted though. The other applicants were all good too, although predictably my co-workers came out on top due to their more specific job experience. I wonder who will get the position...

Tomorrow I'm back working nights for a final week before the school year ends and preparations for summer camp begin.

Currently listening to: Excruciation "Last Judgement - First Assault" double LP